We've talked about ferries quite a bit on social media - they're an important piece of the no-fly puzzle, particularly if you're trying to travel into Europe from Britain and Ireland . We'll leave Irish Sea crossings to another blog post, but this post will outline the options for ferry travel.
With the Eurostar the only other option (alongside coaches which themselves have to use either the Eurotunnel or a ferry), these ferries give a lot of flexibility for those trying to avoid flying!
For foot passengers and onward connections, a few routes stand out as generally superior. From Britain to France, the most useful links overall are Portsmouth - St Malo and Newcastle - IJmuiden . From Ireland, Dublin - Cherbourg is hard to beat. These all still need some transfers - buses, walking, taxis - but they have generally better connectivity (and therefore, comfort and speed!) than most other options.
However, which ferry is most useful for you will depend on what part of Britain or Ireland you are coming from. I (Harry) last took a cross-Channel ferry in June 2022, and that was the Poole-Cherbourg boat. It wouldn't make sense coming from somewhere like Aberystwyth or York, but I already had to go to nearby Bournemouth, so this became the better option.
Maybe if you're in Cornwall or Devon, the Plymouth ferries will become more important for you - it's all about your specific situation. That's why we provide fully custom travel planning - there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution !
The Port of Dover
CC BY-SA 4.0.
There are, in fact, no longer any options for foot passengers to cross the channel at Dover. Flights and the Channel Tunnel have done their work, and now you can only cross to Calais or Dunkirk (with DFDS) with a car. There are P&O ferries, but after what they pulled on their staff earlier this year, we wouldn't recommend anyone travel with them.
Newhaven Marina and Port
One DFDS service to Dieppe now runs, with a daytime sailing (1000-1500) or an *overnight* (2300-0400). The timings aren't necessarily the best, though from London you have simple connections to Newhaven via Brighton, and you can actually leave Dieppe's train station at 0521 and get to Paris for 0740 with a quick change in Rouen. Not quite as convenient in the other direction…
The base fare is £31, and it's £75 for a 4-bed overnight cabin, or £70 for a 1-bed if you want it to yourself, so not the worst price. Just hope you're happy with 4-5hrs of sleep on the ship!
NB. Newhaven Harbor still appears as a station on Google Maps, but it's been closed for a few years now!
There used to be a ferry to Le Havre, but that seems to be extinct. Brittany Ferries run services from here to Ouistreham (falsely marketed as Caen… which is inland!), Cherbourg, and St Malo. For Ouistreham , there's no good public transport link to Caen - this is really suitable only for cars. Good news is, you get three sailings per day, one of which is overnight. Timetable changes in the winter, but expect something like 08:15-15:00, 14:45-21:30, and 22:45-06:45.
The Cherbourg link is irregular, and mostly runs Thursdays 2300-0800. This would probably be a very useful link if it ran more often!
The best link from Portsmouth - certainly for foot passengers - is the St Malo service mouth by Brittany Ferries. This runs overnight, mostly on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, from 2015 to 0815. The prices aren't anything special, but you have a well-timed service with train stations nearby at each end.
The train services from Portsmouth to London and Cardiff aren't the fastest, but they are direct and easy to get to from the port. Likewise, you have to walk to the train station in St Malo, but that has decent trains to Rennes and a few TGVs to Paris each day!
I took this service myself in June 2022, and it's not half bad - the main issue is that Poole port is not that accessible. You've got to walk through a town in the early morning where nothing is open, after a bus or train from Bournemouth, and you have a 30min walk to Cherbourg station on the other side. I happened to be in Dorset anyway, but if you were coming from other parts of the UK? Not a great link for foot passengers.
Poole port's reason to exist is really the Channel Island ferries, which have a strong hub here - in particular, Condor Ferries . Sadly, none of these boats run a relay on to France, so they don't offer faster journeys than any of the direct routes.
A direct link to France now exists in the form of the Irish Ferries route to Cherbourg overnight, roughly 1600-1100. It's a long sailing, but it runs more often than the Rosslare-Cherbourg boat (every other day) and takes a similar amount of time, so this is your best bet for onward connections in France . Expect a base fare of approximately €73 and at least a 4-bed cabin for €89-99.
Brittany Ferries run a service to Roscoff , (2200-0800), and it's good overnight timing. While it doesn't run in the depths of winter, it's an overnight sailing (2000-0630), with a minimum fare of £39 and some very cheap 2-berth cabins (£50-60). This is a pretty interesting route to Brittany… if you're happy going onward from Roscoff!
There was a link to St Malo here, but that seems to have disappeared…
Brittany Ferries run one service a week to Roscoff - so not very flexible! - and another once-weekly service to Cherbourg (1830-1200). It takes so long to get to Rosslare Europort station from Dublin Connolly that you might as well sail from Dublin to France in the first place…
The Brittany Ferries link from Ringaskiddy (which is only car-accessible) to Roscoff only runs in the summer. On the Brittany side, you need a 1.5km and 35 minute bus to get from Roscoff to Morlaix, where you have proper onward train connections. These are overnight ferries, running only on Weds and Sat nights (from Cork/Ringaskiddy).
Hopefully we'll see some foot passenger ferries running from Cobh soon, as the cruise industry has highlighted just how useful the port would be, especially with its direct rail link…
Really departing from North Shields, this DFDS ferry is one of the better choices for traveling from England or Scotland to Europe. DFDS run transfer buses to/from each port, with IJmuiden serving Amsterdam on the European side. Kudos to DFDS for recognizing the importance of these connections, and there are some (slower) public transport alternatives if you really need them.
Cabins are mostly £70-90 for a minimum of two people - there's no extra fare, so it's good value! Roughly 1730-0915 for the overnight crossing.
The P&O ferries terminal at St George's Docks, Hull
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:P_and_O_Terminal_-_geograph.org.uk_-_555110.jpg. CC BY-SA 2.0.
This is a P&O link, and less convenient in every respect than the DFDS Amsterdam-IJmuiden service, so we don't recommend taking it. But, for full disclosure, you can sail overnight (2030-0830) for a €36 base fare and about €115 minimum for a 2-person cabin. They also offer transfer buses from Rotterdam Europoort to Amsterdam and from Hull Port to York (you have no other option on the European side!).
Even before you consider the awful treatment of workers by P&O, this isn't as useful a service as DFDS' Newcastle-IJmuiden link unless you live in Hull itself - the rail connections to Newcastle are way better!
Interior of Harwich International Port terminal building
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4a/Interior_of_Harwich_International_Port_terminal_building_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1003723.jpg. CC BY-SA 2.0
This link to Hoek Van Holland is the main alternative to the EuroStar, and you'll see it discussed on Seat61 quite a bit. The night boat runs 2300-0800, the day boat 0900-1715, and you have some comparatively good connections, especially on the Dutch side. Hoek Van Holland has a full-on metro connection into Rotterdam, though a lot of people will want to get the train onward at Schiedam.
On the UK side, you can get an integrated rail ticket from Liverpool Street station in London, but coming from anywhere else, expect many connections… the base fare is £55, a cabin will be at least £35-50.
(HONOURABLE MENTION) ROSYTH - ZEEBRUGGE
Blue Star 1 under the Forth Bridge in the Firth of Forth, Scotland
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosyth_%E2%80%93_Zeebrugge_ferry_service#/media/File:Blue_Star_1_Firth_of_Forth.JPG CC BY-SA 3.0
As we mentioned in a previous blog piece , DFDS and Ptarmigan are planning to revive the direct link which used to exist from Scotland's central belt to the Belgian coast. This *might* become a competitor with the existing DFDS Newcastle-IJmuiden link, but how exactly it turns out remains to be seen…